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We get many questions about kids and ketogenic diets. We have fed our kids keto from the time they came to us (at age 1 and 2) and have helped many clients put their kids on a ketogenic diet and see big improvements in focus, moods, ADHD and other symptoms. In this post we want to talk about kids going keto, the changes to make versus an adult eating keto and address some common myths.
Top Keto Myths for Kids
Let’s go through some of the top myths that are commonly associated with ketogenic diets for kids. Then we will go over all the benefits we have seen with our kids and clients.
Myth #1: Keto Stunts Kids Growth
One of the most common myths is that kid growth will be stunted without carbohydrates. The source of this myth comes from a study titled “Efficacy and safety of the ketogenic diet in Chinese children“. It studied kids on a “ketogenic” diet being treated for epilepsy. First of all, this kids had severe forms of epilepsy which is going to have its own complications, regardless of diet. Second, the ketogenic diet prescribed was a 4:1 fat to protein diet. That means that for every gram of protein they had 4 grams of fat. For example, a 75 pound child would be given 1-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram so that child would get 34 to 51 grams of protein and 136 to 200 grams of fat. I think that all this study really shows is that you can formulate a really bad ketogenic diet. This low of protein, especially for children, is dangerously low. Kids need MORE protein than adults to fuel growth.
Our recommendation for adults is 0.8 times your lean mass (in pounds) for your protein grams a day. Kids need much more to fuel growth. Young kids like toddlers need 3.0 times their lean mass. Early teens maybe 2.0 times their lean mass. So these kids were getting 34 to 50 grams (for a 75 pound child) when they should have been getting 120 grams or more of protein. Of course this resulted in growth issues, not because of the ketogenic diet, but because of the poor formulation of the diet being very low in protein.
Also, focusing on such high fat requirements results in low nutrient density of the diet. You don’t have whole foods like animal proteins with 4 times the grams of fat than protein. So you have to add lots of fat to get to 4 times. Animal proteins are very nutrient dense so adding lots of fat (which is very low in nutrient density) results in a diet low in nutrients and protein which is also bad for kids growth and development. Take a look at this chart form our book Keto comparing beef to common fats (tallow or beef fat and lard or pork fat).
Chart from our book Keto.
As you can see there are almost no vitamins and minerals in the fat. This is also why for a well formulated ketogenic diet (for adults and kids) we don’t recommended adding fat just to add it or to reach a “goal” or “percentage”. There is a lot of bad keto advise out there and things like fatty coffee (bullet proof coffee), fat bombs, etc are not recommended and will just hold you back in the long term.
Focus on good whole foods and complete animal proteins. Just eat real whole foods and the healthy fat that comes with.
I find it interesting that I am ridiculed for feeding my kids Keto but if someone feeds their kid vegan it’s considered OK which is way more extreme and restrictive than keto. And as stated above will result in low complete protein levels and hurt kids growth. My boys were not even on the growth charts when we first brought them home from Ethiopia. They were about 3-5% for height and weight. They have eaten Keto ever since and within a year were at 50% and are now on the 50-75th percentile and are super strong and healthy! The studies criticizing Keto for kids are eating WAY too little protein for proper Keto and especially for kids the lack of protein is what limited their growth.
Babies are in ketosis all the time! (chart from our book Keto)
So make sure kids get lots of protein to help fuel their growth. We discuss below how much protein kids should get.
Myth #2: You Don’t Get Enough Vitamins and Minerals
Another criticism of the ketogenic diet is you don’t get enough vitamins and minerals if you aren’t eating lots of fruit and vegetables. This is another myth that we spend a whole chapter in our book Keto debunking.
Let’s take a look at a wide range of vitamins and minerals and compare apples, blueberries and kale to just plain old beef. Doctor says an apple a day keeps the doctor away, right?
Chart from our book Keto.
As you can see, beef stacks up really well across a wide range of nutrients compared to many fruits and veggies. This chart highlights the #1 in a vitamin with the darkest color and #2 with a lighter color. As you can see beef is higher than apples, blueberries and even kale in the majority of vitamins and minerals. So maybe we need to revise the state to “a steak a day helps keep the doctor away”.
And if you want to talk about what is the real SUPERFOOD, organ meats like beef liver top anything out there. Beef liver is one of the most nutrient dense foods out there. So we suggest adding a serving or two a week to kick up your nutrient density. Don’t like beef liver? We like to hide it so our boys don’t even know it is in there. We make a recipe that has a spicy flavor profile like our Breakfast Chili and sub some of the ground beef for ground beef liver. Mix it together and with the spice of the chili you don’t even know it is in there!
We spent a whole chapter on this in our book because it is not common knowledge these days that animal proteins are very dense in vitamins and minerals. And when you add the requirement for more protein for kids to fuel their growth you are simultaneously ensuring they get a very nutrient dense diet. This ensure they get all the vitamins and minerals their bodies need to grow and thrive.
Myth #3: Keto Reduces Thyroid Function
Another common myth of ketogenic diets is that it reduces thyroid function and thus is bad for the thyroid, especially in women and kids. Studies do show that a ketogenic diet slightly slows the thyroid down. This is thought to be a protective mechanism against losing lean mass and why ketogenic diets do in fact preserve lean mass better. And we know that a slightly slower thyroid is better for long term health and aging.
But lets take a closer look at this. You are probably saying “you just proved this point”. But the devil is always in the details. We have helped many clients reverse their hypothyroidism. Check out this client testimony:
“Dear Craig and Maria, I just wanted to say thank you for all the time and energy you devote to the ketogenic lifestyle, so someone like me can benefit. In 2013 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After chemo and radiation, my body was beat. The chemo nearly killed me when it attacked my lungs, and I was placed on 120mg of prednisone per day. I gained weight like no ones business and felt horrible. It took months to get off it. In 2014, I had to have a total hysterectomy because of crazy cells in my uterus. Hello HOT Flashes and menopause…at the age of 44. In 2015, I took some control of my life and went low carb. It was working, but my thyroid was a little pesky and after several biopsies, it was removed. I had thyroid cancer. I also have hashimotos hypothyroidism. I was let to believe that a thyroidectomy would make me feel so much better. WRONG! My weight climbed again and this time, I could not get it off. My oncologists encourage me to lose weight because my breast cancer is hormone driven, estrogen and progesterone positive as well as a nasty one called HER2/neu, which makes it very aggressive. Fat cells store the hormones, so the less fat I am, the less chance these hormones will try to kill me again. They offer NO solutions, like it’s a “just do it” thing. Attempts and fails made me depressed and anxious and I gained MORE weight.
Then I found YOU!! I’ve lose weight, I’m the lowest I’ve been in over a year. I don’t ache anymore. My head is clearer. I sleep better. My energy is slowly coming back. I’ve been able to stop taking antidepressants. I have a new lease on life and feel like I’m going to be able to lose 40lbs and feel like ME again!! THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart!! Please keep smiling and doing what you are doing, because it matters.” – Barbra
So keto can help many people fix their thyroid issues. So why is that? A ketogenic diet has long been shown to improve insulin sensitivity so could it also improve thyroid hormone sensitivity? You have several thyroid hormones, the main ones being T4 and the activated from T3. When we say that ketogenic diets slightly slow the thyroid it reduced the T3 levels a little. So why are people seeing better results with their Hypothyroid symptoms if T3 is slightly lower? We believe that it is because, just like insulin, the body gets more sensitive to T3 and can operate fine with less of it.
To support this Dr. Steven Phinney, the top researcher of ketogenic diets, posted this article. In it he has several studies that he reference to show this point. I think he sums it up well with this statement:
“Taking this one step further, why would anyone want to force their thyroid or liver to greater levels of thyroid hormone production by eating lots more carbohydrates? Forcing the pancreas to make more insulin by eating more carbs clearly doesn’t do a lot of good for type 2 diabetics, and we think the same logic applies here for thyroid function.”
Benefits of Ketogenic diets for Kids
Lets talk about all the benefits that a ketogenic lifestyle can have for kids. Our sons have been keto for over 7 years and are thriving. As I stated above, they started out barely registering on growth charts at age 1 and 2. Within a year they were at 50% and now at 75% or above. Protein and high nutrient density foods are fueling their growth and they are thriving. They are very sharp and have great memories. Micah is nearly photographic in his memory and never forgets anything.
What else can a ketogenic diets help with? Over the last 2 decades we have helped tons of parents get their kids on a ketogenic diet and realize huge improvements in moods, focus, health and much more. Here are a few testimonies from our clients.
“I wish I had pics of my son’s skin before hand. But eating keto has cleared up his eczema, and it has done miracles for his ADHD. I just had a meeting with his teacher this morning who confirmed that he has been much more even keeled. Happy to write it up if you want. Though he is not a baby, but a 10 year old who has had eczema since he as 1 ½.” -Stacy
We have many testimonies about ADHD and Eczema. This lifestyle can be amazing for helping kids focus. Here is another:
“We put our 10 year old son on a keto diet in November, with the hope that it would help his ADHD symptoms. We do not use medication and did not want to, but his gluten free diet was not enough. In December, his teacher remarked that he seemed more focused in class, especially after snack time, which used to be marked with bursts of energy and lack of self control. Although the diet takes more planning (on my part) and required him to try new foods, my son said he felt better. Well, last night he got his report card. His grades went up in every subject. His change is remarkable. Thank you.” – Stacy
The improvements in moods and focus go beyond ADHD and we have helped many clients with their kids that are on the autism spectrum. Here is one client:
“We just went Keto and there was an immediate shift in behavior. I honestly thought that we would have a grieving period over cake pops from Starbucks. In the past we had an upset little girl every time she saw that dang green mermaid. I honestly think yanking the processed sugar out COMPLETELY was way bigger for our child. She is 4 and has an ASD diagnosis. It’s mostly speech and language we are dealing with so explaining the changes to her was not gonna help a thing. She’s on a whole new protocol, but this diet was the first step. Very impressed by the removal of sugar. She takes one simple no for an answer now. It’s crazy.” – Heather
If you are a parent of a child on the Autism spectrum, you understand just how powerful it can be to be on a whole new level and protocol.
Here is another showing huge improvements in moods:
“I have seen a complete behavior change in my three-year-old after switching to a ketogenic diet. Like mind blowing change. He is no longer angry all the time, and I’ve heard more I love you’s since he stopped eating wheat and sugar then I did in months before. This really does work! I have seen no change in my daughter, but her behavior was nothing like my sons. Neither of them have lost weight (they didn’t need to but growth was one of my earlier concerns about switching) and I’ve only seen positive outcomes. Give the body the nutrition it needs to function properly!! Not drugs.” – Nicole
And of course the original application, seizure control. We have hundreds of these testimonies. Everything from Eczema, Seizures, Asthma, acid reflux, acne, gestational diabetes, huge weight loss, A1c control for Type 1 diabetic kids, GERD, Chron’s, tourettes, narcolepsy, improvements in immune function and don’t get sick as often or for as long a period.
So not only is keto not dangerous for kids, it can be amazing for helping kids thrive and regain health. Yes, keto can be very helpful for the whole family:
“Well, I’ve lost 99 lbs eating keto. I’m now weaning off of fibromyalgia pain medication because this diet reduces inflammation and helps with my pain more than meds, so why take them? My husband lost 70 lbs, got off his cpap at night, said goodbye to migraines, cured his acid reflux, and normalized his blood pressure. My oldest daughter lost about 20 lbs. My middle daughter has lost almost 50 lbs, and reversed adhd, oppositional defiance disorder, sleep apnea, migraines and undiagnosable tummy troubles (her doctor assumed she was lying!!!!). My youngest didn’t need to lose any weight, but no longer gets bloated after she eats, and it doesn’t take her 2 full weeks to get better after being sick anymore. Ketogenic living has completely changed our family for the better.” – Amanda
What is a Well Formulated Ketogenic Diet for Kids?
So what does a ketogenic diet for kids look like? There are a couple recommendations that a different when it comes to kids and keto. First, kids need more protein (per pound of lean mass) than adults. While adults have a protein goal of about 0.8 times your lean mass (in pounds) for grams of protein per day, kids need much more to help fuel their growth. Healthy growth needs lots of complete amino acids to build new muscles and help kids grow. For young kids around 5-8 years old or so, they need about 3.0 times their lean mass for their protein goal each day. Pre-teens and teens need about 2.0 times their lean mass.
So what does that look like? Let’s say you have a 8-9 year old (like our son Micah) who is about 60 pounds. He is pretty lean so his lean mass is maybe 50-55 pounds of lean mass. So his protein goal is about 3 times that or 150 grams of protein a day. He is on the upper edge of the 3.0 range so he generally could get between 2.0 and 3.0 times his lean mass so a goal of 100-150 grams of protein a day is a good place to start. But generally speaking, just don’t limit the protein. Let them eat as much as they need along with all the healthy fats that come with it.
The other change we do for growing kids is we don’t do any form of fasting (intermittent or otherwise). Kids growth demands require a lot of fuel and their stomachs aren’t big enough so they need 3 meals a day and sometimes a bedtime snack. But they don’t need to be snacking all day long. If they eat until full with three meals they don’t generally require any snacks except sometimes in the evening.
TESTIMONY OF THE DAY
“Hi Maria! I wanted to give you an update of how you changed my whole family’s life!
To date, I lost over 100 lbs (and counting). My now five-year-old us better than normal. She reads and writes at THE FIRST GRADE level! When I changed my diet, all of a sudden her interest in food changed towards the types of food that I ate. Her favorite is your keto “Yum-tella waffles.”
My husband no longer needs statins and I am completely off my Diabetes meds!
I love the fact that we share soooo many common interests: kids, cooking, keto, exercise (I was a BIG athlete too).
Have a great day. Thank you for your amazing books!”
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